Date: Saturday February 22nd
Opponent: Tennessee Volunteers
Location: Auburn Arena
Network: CBS, Auburn Radio Network
Auburn. Tennessee. We Meet Again.
It’s been nearly a year since Auburn not only ended Tennessee’s chances of claiming a share of the SEC Regular Season Championship but also defeated them to win the SEC Tournament Championship. But that was last year, let’s look forward to this year.
Auburn will look to break a 2 game losing streak as they return to the friendly confines of Auburn Arena as Rick Barnes brings his Volunteers into Auburn for another Saturday matinee game. Get familiar with Tennessee as these 2 teams will play again in 2 weeks in Knoxville.
Get to Know Tennessee
Last year, the Vols were led by Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone. Like Auburn, Tennessee lost 3 of their top scorers from last years group. Then, they lost one of their top returners from last year, Lamonte Turner, to a shoulder injury in December as his season came to an early end. As a team, the Vols average 66.2 PPG while giving up 62.1 PPG.
Senior Guard Jordan Bowden (#23) - 13 PPG, 4.1 RPG
Bowden was one of Tennessee’s top returners from last season and has started all year after coming off the bench most of last year. He played well against Auburn averaging 13 PPG and was 5-9 from 3-point range. Bowden has struggled this season from 3 this year shooting just 26.4% from 3 but knowing Auburn’s struggles with perimeter defense, Bowden is certainly capable of having a big game from behind the 3-point line.
Junior Forward John Fulkerson (#10) - 13 PPG, 6.2 RPG
Like Bowden, Fulkerson’s role has expanded greatly this season after coming off the bench last year. Fulkerson has been the most efficient scorer scoring for Tennessee as he’s made 63% of his FG attempts this season. He had a career high 25 points in his last road game at South Carolina last weekend and is averaging 18.8 PPG over his last 5 contests.
Freshman Guard Santiago Vescovi (#25) - 11.4 PPG, 38.3% 3-point shooter
It’s fair to wonder where Tennessee would be at if Vescovi would have been able to suit up all season for the Vols. Vescovi is a native of Uruguay that spent time at the NBA Global Academy in Australia before making it to Knoxvile. He arrived on campus at the end of 2019 and was declared eligible on January 3rd, just before Tennessee’s SEC opener against LSU. He’s been one of Tennessee’s best 3-point shooters and gave Tennessee a much needed scoring boost after Turner’s season-ending injury.
Junior Forward Yves Pons (#35) - 11.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 BPG
The native of France is a excellent shot blocker who leads the SEC in blocks per game. In addition to his shot-blocking ability, he has also stepped up his offensive game this year after only averaging just 2.2 PPG last season. Most of his points last season came off of dunks but he has shot the 3-ball much more this season with as many makes from 3 as attempts from last season (25).
Freshman Forward Josiah James (#5) - 7.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG
James was one of the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2019 and was the first McDonald’s All-American for Tennessee since Tobias Harris. James has been dealing with a groin injury and returned last Saturday after missing 4 games with the injury.
A couple of other guys to keep an eye on for Tennessee:
Junior Guard Jalen Johnson (#13) - Johnson started 2 of the last 3 games and 17 of his 27 FGs are 3-pointers.
Freshman Center Uros Plavsic (#34) - The 7 footer from Serbia became eligible at the beginning of January after transferring in from Arizona State.
Keys for Auburn
Sweet Home Auburn.
It’s huge for Auburn to be back on the homecourt Saturday morning because the Tigers have struggled on the road lately, especially from 3. In the last 2 games, both losses, Auburn combined to shoot 5-43 from 3-point range. Auburn has got to start knocking down 3-pointers if they want to have success not only against Tennessee but as we look ahead to the rest of the season and the NCAA Tournament.
We will see if Isaac Okoro will return as he’s practiced the last couple of days. It doesn’t sound like he is 100% yet so I would be a bit surprised to see him out there but Auburn clearly misses his presence on both sides of the floor.
There was not many positives to take away from Athens but there was one I want to point out, the play of freshman Jaylin Williams, who played 16 minutes off the bench and nabbed 6 rebounds and 2 steals. What will Williams role be going forward? I have always thought that one of Williams, Turbo Jones and Stretch Akingbola would take on a role with this team before this season ended and perhaps Williams is the guy. It’s hard to see him taking minutes from Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore but good on Williams for making the most of his opportunity on Wednesday. We will see how much we see of him going forward because he’s played well when he’s been out on the floor.
There’s no question that the last 2 games have been disappointing but this game’s in Auburn Arena and it’s the last Saturday home game of the year. While catching Kentucky for the SEC Regular Season Title, things have gotten tight at spots 2-6 in the SEC. Auburn, LSU and Florida all sit at 9-4 in the SEC with South Carolina and Mississippi State sitting a game behind them. Right now, Auburn needs to focus on finishing Top 4 in the league and getting the double bye in the SEC Tournament. In addition to that, this game obviously means a bit more to Bruce with him facing off against Tennessee again. I look for Auburn to get back on track in this one.